2017 Palmer House Cup: Awarding The Big Ten's Top Athletic Program During the 2016-17 Season

By Kevin Harrish on June 30, 2017 at 12:30 pm
The Palmer House Cup, awarded to the Big Ten's top athletic program.

In 1895, representatives from seven Midwestern universities gathered in Chicago's Palmer House Hotel to discuss the regulation of intercollegiate athletics. Shortly after, the group created the first Division I collegiate athletic conference in the United States.

Over 120 years later, that conference still stands. The Big Ten currently features 14 member schools from as far west as Lincoln, Nebraska, and as far east as New Brunswick, New Jersey, competing against each other in 28 different sports.

The conference has grown so large and competitive across all sports that we felt there should be an award for the best performing Big Ten athletic program each season. Thus, we proudly introduce the first annual Palmer House Cup.

Much like the NACDA Directors Cup, the Palmer House Cup tracks each Big Ten school's performance in each Big Ten sponsored sport with the aim of crowning the conference's top-performing athletic program across all sports each season.


For each sport, every team is given a score based on its final regular season conference standing (when possible) out of how many teams competed in that sport with the first-place team earning 100 points and the last-place team earning 0. For example, a fifth-place finisher in football (out of 14 teams) would get 69.23 points while a fifth-place finisher in hockey (out of six teams) would get 20 points, much like how an exam is scored.

We then take the 10 best scores from each school, add them together, add any bonus points (explained in the next section) and that becomes the team's grand total which is used to calculate the winner of the cup.

This scoring system was designed to address two issues.

First, the conference's size varies from sport to sport. For example, all 14 teams compete in football while only six compete in hockey. Obviously, a sixth-place finish in football is better than a sixth-place finish in hockey, and we needed a scoring system that reflects that.

Second, some school's athletic departments are much larger than others. Michigan and Ohio State compete in all 28 Big Ten sports while Northwestern only competes in 18. We wanted a scoring system that allows smaller athletic departments to be competitive, which is why we only take the top 10 scores. Obviously, the larger athletic programs still have an advantage as there's more room for error, but it still levels the playing field quite a bit.

Bonus Points

  • Top National Finish: While this award is primarily focused on conference standings, finishing among the top teams in the nation should count for something. Bonus points are awarded for national championships, national runner-up finishes and national semifinal appearances (or if not applicable, top-4 finish).
    • NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: 100 Bonus Points
    • RUNNER-UP FINISH: 50 Bonus Points
  • Tournament Title: Although we chose to go with the final regular-season standings for determining the conference champion whenever possible, we felt that winning a Big Ten tournament or championship game should be worth bonus points, provided the event did not already count as our final standings in the above calculation.


  • The final regular season standings were used whenever possible. In some cases, such as gymnastics, it was not possible due to the nature of the regular season and the results from the conference championships were used.
  • Indoor and outdoor track are counted as separate sports.
  • Only top national finishes in Big Ten sponsored sports are eligible for bonus points.
  • All ties in record/standings are counted as ties, regardless of how obvious the tiebreaker.
  • Ties are always counted at the highest-possible place with all tying teams receiving those points.

Final Results

Place TEam Points Bonus Points Total Score
1 Ohio State 945.51 375 1,320.51
2 Penn State 937.38 200 1,137.38
3 Maryland 828.85 300 1,128.85
4 Michigan 945.21 125 1,070.21
5 Minnesota 868.88 75 943.88
6 Nebraska 791.32 25 816.32
7 Northwestern 756.70 50 806.79
8 Illinois 729.31 50 779.31
9 Indiana 752.06 25 777.06
10 Wisconsin 761.50 0 761.50
11 Iowa 692.67 50 742.67
12 Purdue 736.66 0 736.66
13 Michigan State 706.29 0 706.29
14 Rutgers 299.71 0 299.71

The inaugural Palmer House Cup goes to Ohio State. This season, the Buckeyes won at least a share of six regular-season Big Ten championships, four Big Ten Tournaments, four national runner-up finishes and three national top-four finishes. They actually won two national titles as well in synchronized swimming and men's volleyball, but neither of those is a Big Ten sponsored sport, so it could not be counted for bonus points. Ohio State had the most regular-season points, narrowly edging Michigan, but also had the most bonus points which put them well over the top.

Penn State and Maryland followed in positions No. 2 and No. 3, ahead of Michigan thanks to their bonus points. Penn State won the wrestling national title, had one top-four finish and three Big Ten tournament or championship game wins. The Terrapins won both lacrosse national titles and four Big Ten tournament titles.

In last place, by far, was Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were so bad across so many sports that their fifth-best finish (women's basketball) was actually four-way tie for last-place. Rutgers finished in last – either by itself or by way of a tie – an astonishing 12 times out of the 23 Big Ten sports in which it competes. The Scarlet Knights were the worst team in the Big Ten literally more often than not.

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